Complete Story


Spring 2021, 51.2, pages: 94-108

Objects, Documentation, and Identification: Materiality and Memory of American Indian Boarding Schools at the Heard Museum


This essay analyzes the Heard Museum’s exhibition Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience, a site that documents student experiences at off-reservation boarding schools in the United States. The essay pursues questions of materiality and memory in the creation and disruption of public memory narratives. More specifically, this essay attends to the meaning-making of objects and analyzes their contributions to the exhibit’s documentation and identification work. I argue the successful use of objects in this site holds two key implications for the rhetoric of public memory scholarship: (1) that objects are a resource for the rhetorical invention of public memory, and (2) that additional possibilities for documentation and identification may rest in objects. In making this argument, I thus theorize the relationship among public memory, objects, and settler colonialism, and call for increased attention to objects in our rhetorical histories and theories.


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